The International Space Station Program brings together international flight crews, multiple launch vehicles, globally distributed launch, operations, training, engineering, and development facilities, communications networks, and the international scientific research community.
Launched in 1998 and involving the US, Russia, Canada, Japan, and the participating countries of the European Space Agency — the International Space Station is one of the most complex international collaborations ever attempted.
Q. Who operates the International Space Station?
Five partner agencies (the Canadian Space Agency, the European Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the State Space Corporation “Roscosmos”) operate the International Space Station, with each partner responsible for managing and controlling the hardware it provides. The station was designed to be interdependent and relies on contributions from across the partnership to function. No one partner currently has the capability to function without the other.
The space station was not designed to be disassembled, and current interdependencies between each segment of the station prevent the US Orbital Segment and Russian Segment from operating independently. Attempts to detach the US Orbital Segment and the Russian Segment would encounter major logistical and safety challenges given the multitude of external and internal connections, the need to control spacecraft attitude and altitude, and software interdependency.
Q. What are some examples of how the International Space Station is interdependent?
- Russia provides all of the propulsion for International Space Station used for station reboost, attitude control, debris avoidance maneuvers and eventual de-orbit operations by the Russian Segment, Russian propulsion systems, and Progress resupply cargo spacecraft.
- Propellant for thrusters on the Russian Segment is supplied by Russian Progress cargo spacecraft.
- The US gyroscopes provide day-to-day attitude control to control the orientation of the station. Russian thrusters are used for attitude control during dynamic events, like spacecraft dockings, and provide attitude control recovery when the gyroscopes reach their control limits.
- Power from the US solar arrays is transferred to the Russian Segment to augment their power needs.
- explanation and visuals of the space station orbit is available online.
On the Spot The Station page, you can enter a country or region to watch the International Space Station pass overhead from several thousand worldwide locations.
Q. Can astronauts fly to the International Space Station on one type of spacecraft and return on a different one?
Astronauts typically launch and return in the same type of spacecraft (i.e., Crew Dragon or Soyuz). Each astronaut has custom hardware including a launch and entry suit or a seat liner that is not interchangeable between different models of spacecraft. A crew member can launch on one Russian Soyuz and return on a different Soyuz, but transferring them to return on a